I recently got very excited about a new gadget which sounded really good for travel, hiking and therefore the camino: The Scrubba. It has a ‘flexible washboard’ with little nobules on the inside, and a small valve to let the air out before agitating the laundry in the bag … but essentially it’s a drybag with a clear window so you can see your laundry being done. A bit like staring at the washing machine, only not for long, as this should take a few minutes to get a ‘machine grade’ wash. Nice!
The reason I got so excited was that I often suffer with heat blisters in sunny countries. They are especially bad on my hands, where they tend to sprout on my knuckles and then sooner or later pop. It is a slow healing process because of the position on the finger joints, moving constantly and keeping them from scabbing over (sorry if you were eating – it’s not really as bad as you imagine). So one of the things I like the least on the camino, and which can become a bit of a problem, is doing the laundry by hand every day. Not only does keeping my hands in water – often cold water – for any length of time make the pinprick itching worse but the scrubbing and agitation tends to make blisters burst and scabs come off, leaving sores that can get infected. This is one of the reasons I invest in merino, which can go for an extra day if necessary and only needs a quick dunk in water.
Last time I was on the Camino I met L on Day 2, and we stuck together all the way to Santiago. She was good enough to offer do the hand washing or daily rinsing out for me, and in return I paid for the washing machine when we came across one. I got really excited thinking that something like this Scrubba (though expensive) could be a good thing for me not only on the camino but also when travelling in general: A designated bag to keep laundry in, separate from the clean clothes, and then wash and rinse the clothes in without worrying about my hands or paying for a service. The question was: Would the Scrubba get rid of Galician mud at the bottom of trousers? Or red wine stains?
How, in short, does washing your clothes in a bag work?
Well it so happens that there was a little bit of Wirralian mud on the bottom of my walking trousers after a rainy walk earlier in the week, so I thought I’d try washing them in a drybag to see if the same principle works without the valve. The washboardy thing will probably be handy for stains etc but for just rinsing out sweat a drybag with most of the air carefully squeezed out might do the job. It would be a lot cheaper for sure!
So I did some experimental laundry – I washed my walking trousers in an 8 litre Exped drybag. Just a normal one, not the silnylon kind or the one with a window, as I assumed the plain kind would be sturdier. It also has a kind of handle at the bottom, meaning I could lift and hold it from both ends. At 59 grams it is lighter than a Scrubba too.
I put my trousers and some water in there and a little – very little – detergent, and squeezed out as much air as I could before I rolled the bag up and clipped it shut. It felt like a slightly odd luke warm dough … so I kneaded it for a minute or two, poured the water out and squeezed out as much as I could by rolling the bag up from the bottom, then refilled with more water leaving much more air in, clipped it to, grabbed the built-in handle at one end and the clipped handle on the other and just shook it back and forth a bit. Then emptied water and squeezed out as much as I could by rolling the bag up tight from the bottom. Hey presto, laundry done!
And my hands were still dry!
Then it was easy to clip the handle to carry the wet trousers outside – no drips! – before taking them out and pegging them to the line. I didn’t wring them further, that was part of the experiment. My hands only touched the wet trousers to hang them out, and even though they were still pretty wet there is a limit to how much more water I could have got out by wringing. Wrapping in towel and stamping on it will probably work just as well – or better.
I turned the bag inside out and clipped it to the line to dry, which was one of the things people had remarked about the Scrubba – that it could get a bit yucky inside if you didn’t make sure it was dry before you pack it up. My drybag dried in a tenth of the time it took to dry the trousers, so that shouldn’t be a problem.
Oh, and the line of mud at the very bottom of my trousers was gone! So far so good!